“East is East, and West is West…”

As the college spring semester ends and we turn toward summer, I look forward once again to coaching a small group of new staff members through our Bible Study Methods course. For the first time since COVID hit we’ll be able to meet live instead of over Zoom! I’m also excited that I was asked to teach one of the large-group lectures for the first time! The topic will be the importance of studying the context of a Bible passage. It’s been fun to prepare, and I thought I would share with you the introduction to my talk. :)

Bible and notebook
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.com

You’ve probably all seen this saying somewhere: “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” The meaning seems pretty obvious, right? Some people can be so far apart in their opinions or beliefs or cultures that there’s no way they could ever come to any kind of agreement. “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Period. End of discussion.

I recently learned that this saying is the first line of a long poem by Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book. It takes place on the border of Afghanistan and what was then British India. Here’s the first stanza:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

– first stanza of “The Ballad of East and West” by Rudyard Kipling, 1889

The poem then launches into the story of an action-packed horseback ride as a British officer chases an Afghan thief. By the end of the poem, the two enemies come to respect each other so much that they become friends.

It turns out that the whole point of the poem is to show that the first line is wrong.

And it turns out that by quoting that line out of context, we communicate the exact opposite of what the author intended to say when he wrote the poem.

We don’t want to do that with the Bible! That’s why context is crucial. Context is the key that helps unlock doors of meaning, not only in literature, but in Bible study as well.

Prayer Requests

  • for health and travel safety; the course will meet in Orlando, FL from June 4-23
  • that the class will help our new staff members dig deep into God’s word and let it transform them, and that it will prepare them to teach others to do the same.

Thank you for praying!

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